The Library

We think of library as a civic or institutional space, it is essentially public. However, we also have our personal libraries. We stay in our rooms, peruse our own shelves. It is common at least in the way the upper class is portrayed in the 19th century for a library to be a room in the house. But it is not a room like other rooms, no one decided to have a ‘library room’ instead of a guest room or when their child leaves home – it is an essential part built into the house.

I think there is something to this – that no one chooses to turn an unused room into “the library”. It cannot be that people do not have enough books. My parents have thousands of books, but they are all on shelves in other rooms – there is no thought to devote a room to them. I have been to several other houses, and I think this is normal.

I think the library is essentially a different kind of space which has to be built into a building. Or, the building needs to be refitted such that the books go in the places where they would have gone if it had been built as a library in the first place.

I thus strikes me that if I do build a house, it will have a library into it – built into it, and not as an after thought. I recently came across on Classical Bookworm’s blog a photo of an example of how one might do this:

Now, I believe it is likely that this is a staircase in an actual bookstore, or civic library. However, would it not make such a wonderful library in a home? Would not a library like this give one a new corporeal relationship with books? When books sit on shelves they sit as imposing tomes, permanent – demanding of long study. And yes, books require long and careful study. But how does this study occur? Hours at a time? Sometimes, but these books – are they even in the library? No, they live on our desk, or on our small bedside bookshelf. The books that stand in the library are books we encounter in transience – we walk by, pick them up, look up a passage, and walk on. Serendipity is the best reason to have an actual library rather than a file folder system of PDF files – one never comes across anything “fortuitously by accident” in a PDF file. One’s eye is never caught by the colour of the dust jacket of a digital document. Thus, if this is the benefit of a real library (as well the physical books are nicer to hold), shouldn’t we build the library to facilitate exactly this transient capture whereby books induce us to pick them up?



  1. Hi Tristan. Thanks for the mention. This staircase was actually built in an rental apartment in New York. I’d hate to think what the rent is! I have the link to more photos of the staircase on my blog if you’re interested.

    Speaking of links, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind hosting the image on your own server or on Picasa? Not that I expect it to use up my bandwidth, but it’s just not the usual practice to hotlink images. Thanks. πŸ™‚


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s